Synthesis 2013 > Is the end of the ubiquitous Welfare State an opportunity for a new model to emerge?

Is the end of the ubiquitous Welfare State an opportunity for a new model to emerge?

In all the countries surveyed, a majority of respondents want to see the public sector/State take increased responsibility for social protection. Polish and Spanish respondents are the most numerous in favour of increased involvement. Only the French and the British consider the present levels to be sufficient (or even excessive) in terms of family policy, unemployment benefits, reimbursement of medicines and doctors’ fees (only in the UK). The increased responsibility desired most concerns the needs linked to the aging of the European population: pensions (79% of Europeans want an increase) and long-term care/dependency (75%).

Reform nonetheless seems unavoidable and Europeans appear to be resigned to the idea of budgetary cutbacks. Only Germans believe in an increase in public spending, particularly with regard to family policy (60% believe allowances will increase), pensions (54%) and long-term care/dependency (52%). This optimism, which stands out, can be explained by the fact that Germany was the only country to record a fiscal surplus in 2012, which obviously makes the prospect of budgetary cutbacks less likely. In contrast, in Spain and Italy where austerity programmes are still in progress, a large majority expect further cutbacks.

The expected decrease in the level of State spending is accompanied by the feeling that the State will play an ever smaller role in the future (49% of respondents believe this versus 29% who believe it will play an ever larger role and 27% who believe its role will be ‘neither larger nor smaller’. This conviction is particularly strong among Spaniards (63%), French (61%), Polish (59%) and Italians (55%).

However, the vast majority of Europeans cannot envisage an efficient system of social protection in which the State does not play a major role. Only 14% believe such a system possible. The model of an omnipresent Welfare State as sole player in social protection is not greatly favoured either: only 30% of Europeans consider that an efficient system of social protection is one in which the State has a preponderant role (the percentage is 45% in the UK where people remain deeply attached to the existing model). A majority of Europeans now consider that an efficient model is one in which the State plays an important role in partnership with other players such as insurers, mutual societies and associations (56%; 63% in France and in Poland).

The principle of solidarity remains essential for Europeans and in their opinion the State continues to be the guarantor. Among the series of models proposed, they favour ‘a model where each person pays according to their resources, the rich paying more than the poor’ (52%), ‘a model that also covers those without resources to pay for their protection’ (46%) and ‘a model of solidarity protection, between generations, between employed and unemployed, between rich and poor, etc.’ (39%). The principle of solidarity inherent in the European social model and which has somewhat cushioned the impact of the crisis continues to carry greater weight than budgetary issues (only 33% of Europeans favour a model that seeks as much as possible to reduce spending and deficits in order to balance the budget; 43% in France however) or increased individualism (27% favour a model where each person chooses the level of protection and in which each person contributes to cover their own risks and is covered up to the level of their contributions; 18% favour a model where private insurers and mutual societies are more involved in covering each person’s risk).

France stands out from the other countries in terms of the social models it favours: the more individualist solutions find more support than in the other countries. French respondents were the most numerous to favour a system where each person could choose their level of protection and each person would pay the contributions to cover their own risks (34% versus 27% for the average) and a system in which insurers and mutual companies would play a larger part (26% versus an average of 18%). In France, this trend echoes the growing pessimism that prevents the French from looking forward, the increased anxiety about their personal situations and the feeling that their system of social protection is endangered.

Is the end of the omnipresent Welfare State an opportunity for a new model to emerge?

Regards d'experts

guillemet début In Germany, the sense of responsibility has increased considerably. We previously had a system of protection based on state assistance and welfare cover; the logic has changed with the Hartz laws. This represents a paradigm shift, which the Germans are coming to terms with very well,contrary to everything that has been written in the French social science sector during the past few months.

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guillemet début I believe we are seeing the emergence of four models. 1 – A social system that has reached maturity, on a sustainable basis, as in Sweden,with a strong level of confidence in the model, which is protective. However, this does not prevent Swedes from valuing individual responsibility. 2 - Germany is emerging with a renewed social model, with a strong sense of pride at having switched to this model following the stagnation due to the country’s unification. The Germans seem to have come through the transformation of their model and feel confident once again. 3 –There are models that are at breaking point or in a weakening phase, particularly with the anxiety affecting Polish people, who are nevertheless seen as the liberals of Europe, at ease in a system with accepted risks. Here, we can see that this is no longer working for them”. 4 –However, in the South, we can see a model within which the conventional protective, state-led social modelis being seriously called into question. In the IPSOS research, I found for instance that French people prefer to insure themselves individually, rather than paying into a collective system which they believe no longer offers any dividends.

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guillemet début The family dimension is always important when considering models of protection. There is always a balance between public and private. But how long will this go on? In Italy for instance, are we not moving towards a breakdown of the family structure? For the moment, it is proving resilient. The numbers of people in nursing homes are relatively low, with the exception of the poorest segments. There are all these households with three generations. Young people are no longer finding it easy to buy their first homes (whereas the ideal situation is for a young couple to move into their own home). That is why more and more young adults are continuing to live in the family home. However, how much longer can the family-based solidarity model exist? The number of divorces is on the rise and families are starting to split up. If this vertical-solidarity system built around the family collapses, what will happen?

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guillemet début If we look at things from a historical perspective, we can see that the Germans have an old model, the Bismarckian model; this is even the oldest one. However, they have moved on to another paradigm. They have successfully done what other Europeans are trying to do without managing it so far.

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guillemet début Schröder said: to reform, our governments need to get used to not being re-elected.

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guillemet début The study could have included another question that seems important to me in such an anxiety-provoking environment: what solutions could the European Union itself provide in terms of social protection, despite its still very limited legal competences?

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